For children attending Miss Trotter’s school in North Road in the 1940s, a visit from her friend J. R. Tolkien was a revelation and enhanced the appeal of the long abandoned quarries above Infirmary road where they could now play at being real hobbits.
By then the spoil tips and exposed faces of rock had already been colonised by gorse, broom and small trees and were merging almost seamlessly into Penglais Woods. These woodlands had long dominated the town to the north and were almost all that remained pristine and untouched from the original Plas Penglais estate. The residents of Cae Melyn and Dan y Coed, two small housing estates later built in fields below Penglais Woods, had become increasingly concerned about the frequency of fires, dumping of rubbish and the general decline in the health of the woodland.
This eventually led in the late 1980s to Ceredigion County Council commissioning a report looking at ‘sites that could contribute to the town’s economic, social and environmental well-being’. Various schemes followed including the idea of a Pocket Park – defined as ‘a small natural green area which has wildlife or historical importance in the landscape’. A pretty good description but as Parc Poced Penglais didn’t sound nearly as good as Parc Natur Penglais, the latter became its official name as matters moved on.
In early 1991 the council hosted a public consultation at Ceredigion Museum attended by over 300 people which resulted in the setting up of the Parc Natur Penglais Support Group to manage the park jointly with the council. A Prince of Wales Award came in 1993 in recognition of PNP committee’s close liaison with Ceredigion County Council on behalf of the local community, followed by the park’s designation as Ceredigion’s first Local Nature Reserve two years later in 1995. A UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Urban Nature Reserve award came in 1997 – another Welsh first.
In recent years continuing support by Environment Wales has helped fund projects such as gorse clearance, dry stone wall repair and construction, and path restoration.
For most residents of Aberystwyth, Penglais Woods provide a rural backdrop to the town and is literally part of the scenery but many looking up from the traffic-choked streets would surely miss this ever changing ‘forest fleece’ if somehow it were not there. As development continues apace on greenfield sites bordering Penglais hill, residents and visitors alike should be pleased that there are those working to ensure that this historic broad leaved woodland is preserved for future generations.
Parc Natur Penglais Conservation Project